Saturday, 16 October 2021

Disappointing Documentary (1)

 Yesterday : Mondays : 9pm

The series of ten programmes of one hour each started on Monday last with an episode that was trailed as bring about the "design" of the new model of a Merchant Navy class of steam loco.
So, for the non trainspotters amongst our loyal readership, we need just a smidgen of background.

Oliver Bulleid was the dynamic Chief Engineer of the Southern Railway in the days before nationalisation.

Indeed it was in 1938 that he received permission from his Board to build a new class of Pacific (4-6-2) locomotives for main line express services.

Thus was the "Merchant Navy" class carrying names of shipping lines. Later slightly smaller engines were built as "Battle of Britain" and "West Country" classes. Building continued into the British Railways era.

Bulleid wanted his locomotives to look good, and insisted that the "works" should also be protected against the weather etc. So he hid a traditional steam engine in a metal box. The locos were obvious dubbed "spam cans" by enthusiasts!

Later, BR rebuilt many of the locos and, in doing so, removed the casing, leaving something that looked more "normal".
The main presenter of  the programme was the ebullient Simon Kohler, one of Hornby's more publicity seeking bosses who began his model railway life working on a model shop in Northampton, a shop used by a youthful fbb but when the shop lacked the young Kohler behind the counter.
Right from the beginning, fbb though the programme fell squidgily between two stools. If it was aimed at enthusiasts, it was very weak and dumbed down but, if it was aimed as the general public, it assumed far too much and said far too little.

It began with Simon explaining how he became interested in model railways as a nipper by showing a train set owned by his older brother.

He then explains how Hornby Dublo used to make die cast (i.e. cast solid metal) locomotives but showed a picture of tinplate wagons with not a die cast engine in sight.
He went on to say that Hornby Dublo had never made a Merchant Navy type engine - a factoid that was untrue. The last steam loco marketed by Hornby Dublo before the company collapsed was this ...
... as a three-rail model and this ...
... for two rail track. Both were "West Country" rebuilt variants. Wrenn took over much of the Hornby stock and produced both rebuilt versions ...
... and canned examples. Again, both were "West Country" builds.

There was some archive film of Bulleid's locos in action (a bit fuzzy as screen shots) ...

... followed by pictures of a model which was not a Merchant Navy class!
Next in the cabinet was a rebuilt version ...
... which was a Merchant Navy. Neither of them was the model that was the subject of the programme. These were pictures of plastic models from the existing Hornby range.

There was some discussion on-screen about the demand for detail from today's customers (i.e. the elderly and the wealthy. An un-rebuilt "Merchant Navy" spam can is not the best example of a model where detail is to be admired.

It's a tin box, innit?

As we have seen from pictures above, the new Hornby company produced models in plastic. So Mr Kohner told us that wanted to make a loco in die cast metal as in the good old Hornby Dublo days.

But the programme gave very little information on how the model was actually made. It was, we were told, a solid metal body on the existing chassis and with an all-plastic tender - so not quite a traditional Hornby Dublo clone.

We met the man who was recording sounds to be included with the model ...

... and there was discussion about how a "sugar cube" speaker was being tested to improve sound quality.
This section would have been way above the heads of a general viewer and gave little detail about what a "sound chip" might do, except make chuffing noises.
We were also introduced to a group of dedicated enthusiasts who were rebuilding a Bulleid Pacific for service on real trains.
Again, this fell off both the stools; too trivial for genuine enthusiasts and too mysterious for the man on Clapham Junction station, waiting for his train home.

Then, weirdly, there were visits to a railway modeller who was making a video of a freight train with no connection to the featured type of loco, and the man was also building a model railway without reference to a "Merchant Navy".

It seemed a pointless space filler when much more could have been said about the super duper new model. Presumably it would have been too expensive to film the factory actually making and assembling the loco (in China?) - but that would have been particularly interesting.

Despite the info in the listings magazines, there was actually nothing about the "design" at all, apart from an enthusiastic man sitting in front of a computer.

The programme closed with scenes in a model shop as it received ...

... and unboxed its delivery of just one example for onward sale. "It's heavy," was the only comment!
On the shop counter were ... 
... copies of the July 2021 Railway Modeller ...
... which went on sale in early June, so that gives a date stamp for that part of the programme.

For those who wish to come to their own conclusion about the broadcast, also previewed in the current (November) Railway Modeller ...

... the episode can be found and watched on "UK TV Play".

Next week's episode as about "the design" of an Airfix aircraft kit.

But it may be that even the less than satisfactory content of this documentary has inspired some of our readers to obtain a die cast Hornby Dublo Merchant Navy 4-6-2.

Tomorrow we will try to help readers who feel so inclined and marvel at what is available.

Or what isn't!

There will also be some other items of interest.

 Next Documentary + Variety blog : Sunday 17th October 


  1. Andrew Kleissner16 October 2021 at 07:09

    Er ... no, Hornby-Dublo's "West Country" was NOT a "Merchant Navy"! There's a bout 6 tons of difference.

  2. "less than satisfactory content of this documentary" . . . really?? I'm a railway enthusiast and a railway modeller, and I found the programme to be very good indeed,
    I enjoyed the parts about the sound recording, and even I understood the segment about the differences between the speakers.
    I was pleased to see Railway Modeller referenced in a programme that is ostensibly all about Hornby.
    It was well balanced between the segments . . . the whole point of the construction of the layout is to show the whole of the hobby.

    It's a shame that fbb can't see that a programme about model railways that doesn't take the mickey about the hobby is a good thing.

    Agree to disagree . . .